CARDIFF, United Kingdom, Nov 24 – The All Blacks remain unfazed by the loss of talismanic skipper Kieran Read for the side’s season-ending Test against Wales on Saturday, according to playmaker Beauden Barrett.
Read, the epitome of the free-ranging modern-day No 8, was ruled out Thursday with a back injury.
His place will be taken by Luke Whitelock, with his brother Samuel skippering the side from lock ahead of normal vice-captain Barrett.
“Kieran is like everyone else. If you are not available, it is an opportunity for someone else,” insisted New Zealand coach Steve Hansen.
“While it is disappointing to lose your leader and a guy who has played 100-odd Test matches, you can’t do anything about it so there is no point getting all emotional about it.
“Sam is a successful captain. He has been a leader in our group for quite some time now.”
Barrett had no problem with Sam Whitelock being elevated to skipper, the All Blacks’ most capped lock having led the Crusaders to the Super Rugby crown this season.
“Obviously Sam’s had a bit more experience than me in that role,” Barrett conceded.
“I’m really happy being a tour vice-captain, therefore I can focus on running the game like I do most games.”
Barrett added: “It’s certainly different (without Read), but we’re confident with the leaders in the group and the way we’ve prepared this week.
“He’s obviously a huge loss, but Luke Whitelock is a quality player who’s played well all year.”
– Great buzz in camp –
With Wales aiming to break a 29-match losing streak against New Zealand dating back to 1953, Barrett had a word of warning ahead of Satuday’s showdown at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium.
“It’s been a great buzz in camp this week. We’re all really excited, it’s awesome to play in the stadium down the road, it’s been a positive one,” said Barrett, a key member of New Zealand’s 2015 World Cup-winning squad.
And Barrett hailed the apparent change in style shown by Wales, who have opted to go for a ball-playing inside centre, or second five-eights as they might say in New Zealand, rather than a crash-ball figure such as Jamie Roberts, long-time a key piece in Warren Gatland’s gameplan.
“We’ve seen that shift since the World Cup,” Barrett said.
“The game they seem to be playing at the moment is quite expansive, using the ball a bit more, using the fuller field and backing their passing game.
“Typically it’s different to what we’re used to but it’s good for the game.”
Barrett, who played in the drawn 1-1 series against the British and Irish Lions in the summer, added: “They have strengths all over the park.
“Dan Biggar is an obvious one, my opponent on Saturday night, a quality player, in the mix with Lions but he didn’t get too many opportunities.”
Barrett also insisted that the 64-year hold the All Blacks enjoy over Wales was not a motivating factor.
“We’re aware of it,” he said. “But that doesn’t motivate us. What motivates us remains the same every week and we stick to that no matter who we play against.”